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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Heard of the Meningitis Vaccine?

It's Safe, Effective, and Can Save Lives, Yet It's Unknown to Many

Vaccine Not Mandatory continued...

"I would argue that this vaccine is a perfectly reasonable choice to give everyone in adolescence," Paul A. Offit, MD, tells WebMD. "Here is a disease that affects some 3,000 Americans a year. A few hundred die from it. Another few hundred are left without limbs [from amputations] or with permanent brain damage from it. And we have a safe, effective vaccine that could prevent much of this.

"But the most striking thing of all is that most parents have never even heard there is a vaccine ... until their child is in intensive care," says Offit, chief of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Close Contact Heightens Risk

Meningitis and other meningococcal infections typically occur in children before age 5 or in adolescents and adults living in close proximity to each other, such as in a dormitory. Offit advocates that the vaccine be considered by parents of teens, especially those in close living quarters with strangers.

"That's when the risk factors are more apparent -- crowding from living in dorms or at summer camps, where you're in close quarters to new people," he says. Add to that the dorm-life behaviors such and smoking and drinking, which can weaken the mucous-protective lining of the respiratory tract, making it easier for the potentially fatal bacteria to enter the bloodstream.

His article explains why the vaccine has not been endorsed for routine treatment in young patients by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other health groups: It's not considered cost-effective -- meaning the money it would cost to immunize everyone couldn't be justified against what it costs to treat the disease.

Instead, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that students entering collage be informed about the risks of the disease and the benefits of the vaccine.

"But very little we do in medicine is cost-effective -- bone marrow transplants don't save money for society," Offit tells WebMD. "Mammography isn't cost-effective."

Few Doctors Mention It

Another reason why the vaccine may be news to you: It's not covered by most insurance companies, so many doctors might hesitate in discussing it with their patients -- who would have to pay the average $80 in out-of-pocket costs to vaccinate their child for what is, statistically, a one in 125,000 chance of contracting meningococcal infection.

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